There seems sometimes to be a natural conflict between what it takes to be a good artist and what it takes to sell good art. It's why artists often make such lousy sales people for even their own work. And, it's what keeps galleries and sales reps in business. Quite aside from various personality and left/right brain considerations, part of the problem is that no one has taught artists HOW to sell art. What we know often comes from trial and error, intuition, and sometimes even bad advice from other artists. Today I attended the first of a series of three workshops dealing with this very subject.
The speaker was Bruce Baker, a custom jeweler from Middlebury, Vermont. Some of what he had to say I knew, some I knew instinctively, and some of it was new. In general, what I came away with was a list of do's and don'ts. If they sound a little like transcribed notes...well...they are. And if I had to distill it all down to just a few words, one might say that selling art is all a matter of languages--spoken and body. The spoken language comes from the head, the body language from the heart, and very often, like the head and the heart, they are very much in conflict.
With the spoken language of selling art, the most important thing is the two "Y" words--"You" and "Yes." In talking with customers, the more often you can pepper your conversation with these two words, the more likely you will complete a sale. Whether you run a store or a ten by ten booth, the rules are the same. Avoid any question which might be answered with the word "no." This includes "May I help you?" Instead, try, "IF I can help you, let me know." Sometimes just a simple greeting, "Good morning..." is best. Whatever the case, acknowledge the customer's presence, but avoid mundane questions--"How are you today?" Then wait for permission to pursue the sale. When it comes, concentrate on two things, features of your product, and it's benefits to the customer. It might seem hard to put the benefits of a painting into words. The trick is to sell "lifestyle." People often buy art to fill their lives with material things to substitute for something lost spiritually. In any case, be alert for indications as to WHY a customer is considering buying your work, then cater to that need.
You have three things to tell and sell--product, price (and especially with art), the story behind the product. Always avoid tech talk (it makes the customer feel stupid), and cynicism of any kind no matter how tiresome the question. Artists constantly get the question, "How long did it take you to make this?" Resist the urge to smart-mouth back, "Forty-six years." Try, "I get asked that a lot, I always wonder why people want to know." And never say "thank you" except at the end of a sale, once money has changed hands. A compliment regarding your work is a form of payment on the part of the customer for being entertained, but it's not very negotiable at the bank. "Thank you" leads to closure. Instead, see such admiration as an opening to make customer-centered comments regarding what you have to sell.
Body language is more subtle but also more telling. Avoid sitting down. It leads to boredom, reading, disinterest, and a passive (take it or leave it) attitude. It tells the customer you are waiting for them to come to you. Keep busy but available. Be assertive, but never aggressive. Avoid hands behind the back, arms crossed, or hands in pockets, all of which send the wrong message to the customer. Avoid hands to the face gestures. They signal doubt. Instead, use your hands. Keep them open as you speak and gesture. Make them exude pride in your work. Think of them as a THIRD language--sign language.
Body language must be customized to the customer. Learn to read it. Men tend to talk side by side. Women like to face the seller and make eye contact. Introverts need a quiet, low-keyed, gentle approach. With extroverts, back off a step or two and crank up the volume! Remember, especially in selling such nonessentials as art, that women buy, men and children (if they're along) need only be entertained. But in doing so, be sure to include all adults present equally in the sale, being careful never to butt into any form of private conversation between parties.
Present your work at eye-level (about 36" to 66"). Never mix the cute with the sophisticated. Both will sell, but mixing them destroys the focus of your presentation. Always work to erase doubt in the customer's mind. Go with the trite but true--emphasize the positive; eliminate the negative. Offer to exchange any purchased work for anything else you might have (of equal value, of course). Whenever possible, put your product in the hands of the customer, even going so far as to allow them to take it home and live with it for a short time. Take credit cards. They're less frightening for the customer than cash. Don't bargain price. It cheapens you AND your work in the eyes of the customer. If necessary, add a service instead--free gift wrapping, delivery, installation, or layaway. Never miss a chance to sell up, sell multiples, or encourage return sales.
And finally, be in control. Work to finalize the sale NOW rather than later. Offering a business card, brochure, or mentioning a web site invites procrastination. Try to do so only AFTER the sale. Most of all, be energetic, enthusiastic, and sincere. Even ARTISTS can learn to sell art.